Andrew watches the truck carrying toward him with a sense of inevitable detachment. He thinks I may just die, and not much after that. If he dies, he won't care either what happens after.
The light of the truck blinds him. The sound of blasting horn fills the air. Neil veers the car toward the right at the last second. Something sharp and familiar twists his stomach, cuts off his breath, and Andrew recognizes it as fear before the truck crashes into them. In his ears, the hissing noise of metal bending under metal. The airbags deploy, knocking him back in his seat.
The world stills.
It's night outside. There's a ringing sound in his ears. It decreases slowly, replaced by the soft sound of the night. An owl hoots. A dog barks in the distance.
He blinks a few times. Something is trickling down his brow. He tries to take a deep breath and a sharp pain in his ribcage makes him wince. He raises his hand to his brow. It comes back stained with blood.
He turns his head and finds Neil, his eyes closed, blood all over his nose and lips. The fear from earlier comes back, all-encompassing, freezing his blood, churning in his belly, threatening to consume him. He presses two fingers to Neil's throat. When he feels Neil's pulse, strong and regular, fear is replaced by anger. Anger at Neil for being his martyr self, anger so strong and sharp he could have killed Neil right then and there if killing Neil wasn't the only thing he could not survive.
Instead, with an aching hand, he digs his phone out of his pocket and dials 911.
His injuries are not life-threatening, the doctor's voice says in his mind, repeating it over and over.
It doesn't feel like it when Neil's lying in the bed, almost as white as the sheets. His face is bruised, a purple mark blossoming on his jaw and cheek. His arm and collarbone are in a sling and a bandage is draped over his nose.
He's been unconscious for a few hours now. Andrew knows the reason is the pain-killers the doctors have given him, but he doesn't like it. He should be awake by now. Andrew's fingers twitch and he resists the temptation to check Neil's pulse. He busies himself with writing a text to Kevin, explaining the situation. He doesn't need him calling about why they've missed practice.
Hospitals make him angsty. The smell, the people going in and out of rooms, the uneasy silence until the doctors and nurses come bustling around the corridors all contribute to the feeling of uneasiness.
Neil's breath hitches before shortening. The heart monitor's beeping speeds up, loud and annoying. Andrew is on his feet before he knows it. Neil's eyes flutter open, and he struggles for breath. He tries to sit up. Andrew stops him with a hand on his uninjured shoulder.
"Stop it," he says. "You're hurt, don't move."
Neil's eyes fall on him. He gasps a few times and Andrew hears him count in French under his breath. As the numbers increase, Neil's breath lengthens and deepens. Andrew feels his body relax under his hand.
He sits back in his chair. Neil's gaze travels along his face, taking in his probably terrible appearance. Andrew wants to reach out and cover his eyes with his hand. Instead, it's Neil reaching for him, with a trembling hand. Andrew grabs it with every intention of pushing it back on the bed but finds himself curling his fingers around his wrist, pressing his fingerpads to Neil's pulse. Its regular rhythm is more soothing than he wants to admit.
Neil opens his mouth as if to talk, but ends up coughing instead. Andrew reaches for the glass of water with his free hand and brings it to Neil's lips.
"What happened?" He asks, after drinking a few sips. Even after being unconscious for hours, he seems exhausted.
Andrew wants to strangle him. "Car crash," he bites out before gritting his teeth.
Neil stares at him, his fingers curling around Andrew's own as if to tangle them together. Andrew wonders if he can get away with killing him.I did the world a favor, your Honor, I got rid of an annoyance.
"You're angry," Neil says, not a question but a statement. Andrew asks himself when Neil started to know him so well. Maybe somewhere in the five years they've been living together.
He tightens his grip on Neil's wrist. "I thought you had your martyr complex beaten out of you." He keeps his tone flat, at odds with the anger threatening to spill from him.
Neil frowns. "I don't remember what happened. Enlighten me?"
Andrew's eyes darken with rage. "You veered the car so that you got hit instead of me," he growls. Neil winces at how hard Andrew is squeezing his wrist. Andrew lets go. He hasn't realized how tight he'd been holding Neil's wrist. He pushes the call button.
A black man dressed in scrubs comes in the room. He smiles at them. "Mister Josten, I see that you've woken up. I'm Tony and I will be your nurse."
Neil has nothing to say and just stares at him. Andrew doesn't care enough to talk. Tony is undeterred and flips through the chart at the end of Neil's bed. "What injuries do I have?" Neil asks impatiently.
"You've suffered a concussion, a small fracture and a broken collarbone on your left side in addition to several deep muscle bruises," Tony recites. Andrew painfully misses the weight of his knives against his arms. "You are quite lucky. The crash could have been much worse."
"I can feel the luck," Neil sneers. "How long until I can play again?" He asks, predictable junkie that he is.
"At least ten weeks," Tony tells him. "We'd like you to stay at the hospital so that we can monitor your concussion and if everything goes well, you should be able to go home."
Neil flutters his eyes and lets out a shaky breath. Andrew stares at him. Neil smiles at him but it's forced and not fooling anyone, least of all Andrew. They have been dating for seven years. Andrew's basically immune to Neil's bullshit by now.
He lets him know by sending him the darkest look he can muster.
"I'm fine," Neil says.
"Shut up," he snaps.
At least, Neil has the decency to look chastised. He bites his lips, his eyes closing. "Just tired. I have a headache."
Tony nods, coming closer to the bed. "I'll increase your pain-killers. You're gonna feel tired, don't fight it.
Neil gives a little nod. Tony gives Andrew a reassuring smile that he ignores and leaves the room. Neil keeps his eyes closed and doesn't talk again. Andrew stares at him his profile, his sharp cheekbones, his pointy chin, the splatter of freckles. He brushes his thumb along them, needing to feel Neil under his fingers, to remind himself that he was real and alive.
"You should stay in bed for the next week at least. No strenuous activities, including sex, for at least two weeks," the doctor informs him as Neil signs the form to leave the hospital. "I know how professional athletes are and I cannot stress enough that you should not do any sport for the next ten weeks. Six weeks for your arm and collarbone to heal and the four remaining weeks to build your muscles back. I trust your team has a physiotherapist?" Neil nods.
He winces as he stands up from the wheelchair. His legs are not injured and in his stubbornness he's refused to be pushed all the way to the car in a wheelchair.
They make their way slowly to their rented car. It's definitely less flashy than Andrew's Maserati, but that's all he could get on such a short notice. Neil lowers himself in his seat with a wince. Andrew locks his jaw determined to contain his anger behind closed lips.
The drive back to their shared apartment is tense and silent. Neil keeps throwing hin slide glances but doesn't talk to him.
The cats come running when he opens the door of the apartment, mewling and curling around his legs and Neil's. Neil kneels slowly and pets them, whispering dumb things to them. Andrew looks at them, thinks about how this scene isn't a given, it could have been different, it could have been only himself and almost punches the wall.
He digs in his jacket for his cigarettes and makes his way to the balcony.
He's on his third when Neil comes in. He's changed into a clean hoodie, one too big for him and had belonged to Kevin some time ago. Andrew doesn't know if he wants to bring him close and kiss him breathless or push him over the railing of the balcony and watch his body plummet to the ground.
"You are mad at me for protecting you," he says, looking through Andrew like Andrew is clear glass. Andrew crushes his cigarette to the ground instead of crushing Neil's windpipe.
"I never asked you to protect me."
Neil's eyes are cold and unflinching as he takes a step closer to Andrew. "You don't have to ask. I will always protect you. I told you already, back then. I want to come back for you."
Andrew grabs him by his shirt and shoves him against the wall. "I don't need protection. I sure as fuck don't need it from someone who cannot even protect himself," he snarls.
He storms away, leaving the apartment and slamming the door behind himself. He doesn't go further than that. He thinks of Neil, injured and stubborn inside the apartment, of their cats, of the life they've built together and cannot bring himself to leave. He slides against the door, his head between his knees. He breathes slowly, forces himself to unclench his fist, rubbing his thumbs along the nail marks in his palm.
Neil is sitting on the couch as if he's always known Andrew would never leave, would always come back. The intensity of Neil's trust is frightening sometimes.
Andrew sits beside him on the couch. "You shouldn't protect me. I'm not worth anything."
There's something like profound understanding in Neil's eyes. He raises his hands, and lets them hover around Andrew's face, like he'd done years ago, after Baltimore. This time, Andrew gives him a slight nod. Neil cradles his face, his gaze so tender, something in Andrew aches.
"You're worth everything to me," Neil whispers, like a secret between only themselves, and tucks one of Andrew's curls behind his ear.
"Shut up," he growls, but can't help the way he leans in Neil's touch.
Neil smiles softly before yawning. "Sorry," he says, with a sheepish smile.
Andrew rolls his eyes. "Go to sleep, idiot. I'll still be here when you wake up."